Poverty and Stress

Among those who regard poverty as a major social problem, the conventional view is that we should respond by declaring a new "war on poverty," then introduce initiatives that would lower the poverty rate, and thereby reduce the poverty rate in the U.S. However sensible such an approach may seem, there are real political hurdles that in the U.S. context make it difficult to take on poverty in any concerted way, and one might therefore focus additionally on measures that reduce the negative effects of poverty among those experiencing it. The purpose of the stress reduction lab, then, is to explore strategies for breaking the strong link between poverty and the stress that poverty generates (as revealed by, for example, cortisol levels). This link is important to break because poverty-generated stress has been shown to produce many negative outcomes among children (e.g., lower school achievement).

In collaboration with the Brookings Institution, we have contracted with developmental psychologists Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Gary Evans to uncover the mechanisms linking the experience of growing up in poverty with harmful biological reactions, such as increases in blood pressure, allostatic load, and body mass. The results of these analyses are used to craft policy recommendations on how the destructive linkage between poverty and stress can be broken.